Smallville: They Should Have Kept Gina.

I’m watching Smallville again, and am again right at the end of Season 7 and the beginning of Season 8, and the end of Season 7 reminded just how much better it would have been if they had never introduced Tess Mercer to replace Lex Luthor, but instead had simply not killed off Gina at the end of Season 7. Everything that they had in Tess Mercer they had in her: she was only his assistant, and so all of the plot lines about her not being considered qualified to run Luthorcorp were valid, she had been involved with Lex in some of his dirtiest dealings and so was certainly trusted by him, she had the undercurrent of being in love with Lex, she was demonstrated to be absolutely ruthless and so was already established as being a threat, her background was vague enough that if they really, really, really had to do the link to Green Arrow — and I personally think that was a really bad idea — they could have done it, and since we had already been exposed to her it would have made for an easier transition from the old main villain to the new one. Add to that that Gina’s death was for the most part absolutely pointless and utterly unnecessary to most of the plot, and that even with that scene they could have inserted some kind of last minute save that could have also resulted in her losing her memory of who the Traveller was, and it smacks of lost potential.

And one thing that strikes me about Season 7 is that there was a lot of lost potential in it, sacrificed in an attempt, it seems, to make things seem more serious and to promote Lex becoming more villainous. The death of Julian is a prime example of that, as is the death of Patricia Swann, as is the death of Gina. None of them were necessary and all of them squander what could have been good plotlines. Having Julian as a naive intermediary between Lionel and Lex would have been a nice development, and even though the ending harkened back to Lex handling a similar situation differently (when Lex was the naive one to trust his brother, kinda), it wasted a long set-up with Julian and his relationship with Lois. Maybe he wasn’t really panning out to the audience at the time — he was kinda annoying to me as well — but because of the set-up the ending just seems to make it worse: focus on a character, interweave him, and then ditch him unceremoniously with a slightly out-of-character move from Lex, who had always tended to be focused on more subtle means first before rsorting to outright violence … just like Lionel. The same thing applies to the death of Patricia Swann. She was an interesting character who could have brought so much more to the table than merely being the person who delivered the plot MacGuffin and died. I was heartened by the hints that she was going to get involved in the story and disappointed with her, again, unceremonious death.

Not only did they waste good characters, the latter two really hurt Lex as a villain, turning him into more of a thug than a Mastermind/Chessmaster, someone who’s first answer is to kill opponents rather than co-opt them into doing his will. And the one that he does co-opt is Jimmy Olsen, who’s not much of a threat. Seeing Lex manipulate major players would establish his credibility as a thinking villain, especially since against Clark Kent/Superman brute force isn’t going to be all that effective. So, Lex’s methods in Season 7 tend to be crude, direct, and brutal, far more so than his methods in previous seasons and making him out to be a far inferior Chessmaster when compared to Lionel … who, don’t get me wrong, was indeed more than willing to kill as well, but was more subtle and had more pinache about it, and also seemed to be almost disappointed when he had to resort to those sorts of crude methods. Lex seems to jump to them first, which is disappointing, especially since Lex Luthor was an incredibly good villain in the previous seasons.

To return to the original topic, Gina could have provided a more brutal villain by combining her ruthlessness, her anger and the fact that she was just not the sort of Chessmaster that the Luthers were, without derailing a character to do so, or introducing a new character that no one knew or cared about to try to fill a void that was already going to be difficult to fill. That she wasn’t the villain Lex was not only would be understandable and expected, but could have worked into her story arc. Keeping Patricia Swann around would have allowed her to step into Tess’ more heroic role and allowed us to keep Gina as a more pure villain, and then Seasons 8 and onward could have set up a subplot of villainy where the main, head-to-head battles could have been between Swann and Gina, an intellectual and ruthless “catfight” to replace the Lex/Clark or Lex/Lionel showdowns, while still heavily involving Clark, Chloe and the others because all of the fighting is, in fact, over Clark, and the story that he presents. I think having two strong, capable women doing the at least public competing would make for a nice change, and those two characters — and actresses — could have pulled it off well.

And then we wouldn’t have had to have lines like Tess insisting that the desk was Lex’s be establishing lines, as opposed to being simple reflections of character traits that we already knew about. If Gina had been in that scene (from the Season 8 premiere), you could have seen the conflict in her from the right context: Gina wanting the power and control, but not wanting to supplant Lex and desperately wanting him to be alive. With Tess, we aren’t sure what that means, because the line is supposed to help us learn about the character. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it would have been so much better if we hadn’t had to learn about that character at all.

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